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Debunking myths around programmatic OOH

With the rapid speed of change occurring in the ad industry, it is inevitable that unless someone is directly interacting with a platform - buying or planning campaigns - there is every chance that they have high-level knowledge only.

Take programmatic, for example. We all know what it is - the automated buying and selling of digital ad space - but how many understand the nitty gritty, and importantly, how programmatic may change when applied in newer channels such as Out of Home (OOH) versus “traditional” desktop display?

These knowledge gaps can affect anyone, so it was perhaps because respondents’ answers were anonymous that VIOOH’s latest State of the Nation report revealed 47 percent of agency and advertising executives felt they didn’t truly understand the benefits of programmatic OOH. Unsurprisingly, this was particularly prevalent among more senior advertisers and agency decision makers.

Here, I will set the record straight and let you know not only how programmatic OOH works (it’s very straight forward) but also share with you the real benefits brands can achieve when programmatic OOH is planned and activated within an omni-channel programmatic campaign. We’ll also look at how programmatic methods have expanded the traditional perception of OOH as purely a brand-building medium, to incorporate performance driven objectives and, why in these unpredictable times, programmatic OOH could be the best advertising weapon yet against the Lockdown Effect.

So how does programmatic OOH work?

Essentially you are automating the sale and delivery of digital OOH (DOOH) ads in a similar way to most online advertising. Buyers will set conditions under which they want to buy OOH impressions, such as time of day (usually in 1-hour slots) and the environment (retail, transport, etc), possibly overlaid with external factors such as a weather condition. When those conditions are met, a bid is triggered against an available impression within an exchange. If the bid is successful and the campaign creative is suitable (having been pre-approved by the OOH media owner, with consideration to restrictions for categories such as alcohol in certain environments - near schools or churches, for example), the ad impression is purchased automatically and served in the relevant time slot.

What are the key advantages of buying OOH this way?

Programmatic delivers on one of the biggest advantages of the OOH medium, which is the ability to run hugely impactful ads on premium digital sites with relevance and flexibility. Creative can be adjusted at the click of a button in response to anything from sports results, the weather, breaking news and so on. Add to that, digital OOH is 100 percent fraud-free, safe and transparent due to its broadcast nature, so there’s no risk of ad-blockers, viewers skipping the ad or your work running in an undesirable or unsuitable location. Indeed, as there is finite OOH inventory available (frames are already built in specific locations, and there are only 24-hours in the day), the equivalent of “long tail” or unknown inventory that you get in display simply doesn’t occur, and data including exact frame location (lat/lon) is passed in the bid request from the SSP to the exchange, so any available impression can be matched against the criteria the advertiser sets.

Can every digital site be bought programmatically?

Not yet. In order to make digital screens available programmatically via an SSP such as VIOOH, the media owner must be willing for their inventory to move to an audience-based buy, and not be limited to buys based on share of time, loops and specific screens.

The media owner must also have the data available that allows them to trade on an impression-led basis. For example, in the UK we work to an hourly-led audience segmentation that is derived from Route data. This data allows an OOH media owner to sell their inventory on an impression basis, aligning with other digital media (of which approximately 87 percent is traded programmatically), thus enabling OOH to become part of a brand’s wider programmatic strategy.

Other fundamentals include the content management system (CMS) each media owner utilizes - our platform needs to be integrated into a media owner’s systems to ascertain and understand what inventory is available to sell. We are agnostic, connecting via API to the media owner’s system, which enables us to understand if there is any unsold inventory and offer it out to new buyers programmatically, significantly enlarging the pool of potential buyers who might not normally have thought of OOH as a channel for their media plan.

What we are seeing is a great appetite to enable DOOH inventory to be bought programmatically. Our 2019 State of the Nation report predicted that 2020 would be the year programmatic OOH went mainstream - obviously this was before Covid-19! However, we remain confident that programmatic will be an accelerant to the recovery of OOH, enabling the medium to transform and thrive in the digital age. Indeed, the 2020 edition of the State of the Nation report revealed that, even within the context of Covid-19, 99 percent of agency and advertiser executives plan to increase their spend on programmatic OOH in the next year, with over a third (37 percent) expecting to more than double their spend, compared to the previous 18 months.

Why is it so effective as part of an omnichannel campaign?

While OOH is impactful in its own right, particularly when used in an innovative and creative way, there is no doubt that when used alongside other channels such as mobile, it gives a monumental boost to any campaign.

The implementation of omni-channel programmatic campaigns represents a significant growth opportunity for digital OOH,  as it can now be planned and bought within programmatic campaign budgets, delivering a more holistic experience to the consumer, a cohesive and integrated strategy for the advertiser, and potentially incremental budget to the media owners.

The 2020 State of the Nation report revealed that, over the next 18 months, 52 percent of digital campaigns in the UK are likely to involve programmatic OOH. This could be something as simple as a consumer who has passed by a digital OOH ad triggering an ad to be served on their mobile phone, driving a range of KPIs from store visits and purchases to branding and brand awareness. While OOH offers a one-to-many experience, mobile delivers an equally effective one-to-one strategy, ensuring the pair compliment one another perfectly. Indeed, in a pre-Covid campaign for Virgin Active sports clubs, the combination of DOOH and mobile increased visits to gyms by 2.44 times, and including the programmatic OOH and mobile elements allowed for mid-campaign optimization that actually reduced the overall number of mobile impressions whilst generating more impactful results from the digital budget.

What role can progOOH play in driving performance and brand-led advertising results?

Programmatic OOH works well for both performance or brand-led campaigns, but in both cases it comes down to the innovation and strategy implemented by the advertiser, agency and DSP involved. In the UK market, our survey found that equal proportions of agencies and advertisers (60 percent) believe that programmatic OOH is important for brand-led campaigns. When considering performance-led campaigns, 70 percent of advertisers were in favor of the use of programmatic OOH, versus 55 percent of agencies.

Is now really the right time to be buying programmatic OOH?

Programmatic OOH has many advantages, but arguably the biggest right now is its flexibility and the ability of the buyer to target consumers on the move. When we went into full lockdown back in March, there was a knock-on effect for the sector, but once people started moving around in greater numbers over the summer, programmatic OOH came back into its own.

Now with limitations imposed again in the UK, the ability to precisely understand where audiences are, from mobile data for example, and then automatically bid against relevant OOH impressions in the right setting, is invaluable. The flexibility to adjust budgets and buying parameters as restrictions change, with no pre-determined commitment, is proving a key attraction for many advertisers.

And if further proof was needed of the ability of programmatic OOH to weather the storm, 71 percent of our UK respondents acknowledged that programmatic advertising is more important to their business’s marketing success at a time of crisis.

So there you have it, the essential facts, not myths, about programmatic OOH. Visit or follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter to learn more about how programmatic OOH can help your campaigns.

Helen Miall, CMO, VIOOH

Helen Miall, CMO, VIOOH.